May 2017: Chris Latham appointed artist in residence at Australian War Memorial

Flowers of War project – Australian War Memorial ( RiotAct)

By Suzanne Kiraly - 11 May 2017

It is no wonder that the Australian War Memorial wins tourism awards, as the creativity of experiences provided for visitors is second to none.

They have recently come up with another first. The Flowers of War project. Chris Latham (of Canberra International Music Festival fame) is the musician and director of the program and has been appointed for the period of 2017-2021.

Thanking the Australian War Memorial, Chris Latham said, “My role is to recover music from conflicts of WW1, WW2, and Vietnam and thereby to enrich the music collection for the Australian War Memorial and also give a human face to our nation’s losses. Music had such an important role in helping people express their grief and to sustain them throughout these wars.”

Chris has a long history of fascination with the twisted contradictions of human souls – “the monster who destroys, not for food or resources, but out of rage, and the sublime being who makes art to transcend, creating beauty out of their inspired imagination. His personal experience of loss through war was also felt profoundly. He tells of the war service in his own family, in which his two grandfathers had served – one in WW1 and the other in WW2. Afterwards, he tells us that both found it difficult to love their children (his parents). His grandmother apparently conversely loved everyone but was cruelly haunted by nightmares from serving as a nurse in the Somme. His great Uncle Peter, a famous musicologist, had hoped as a young man to be a great pianist and composer, but his shoulder had been smashed by a bullet, making it deeply painful for him to play.

In a way, we are all touched by war in our past in some way or another.

These preoccupations gave rise to a decade of work for Chris, making the Gallipoli Symphony (2005-15), his last full program in which I was privileged to work with him, where he curated for the Canberra International Music Festival in 2014, and his current work on this Flowers of War project.

Chris’s first task here is to create “The Diggers’ Requiem” for the Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The premiere will be on April 23, 2018, in France and on October 5, 2018, in Canberra. This is the follow-up to the Gallipoli Symphony, on which ABC-TV had a broadcast from the Istanbul premiere, released on DVD and CD. See: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/content/2016/04/23/4446255.htm

The website for the Flowers of War project, tells us that: “it is a project to uncover, perform, discuss and celebrate the music and art that talented men used to cope with the horror and to mark their experiences. Over the next three years, nine concerts of recently discovered music, diaries, poetry, and art will be performed in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and France, including a tour of villages of the Somme. These concerts will be accompanied by symposia with noted experts in the field, so marking the significant centenaries of the Great War.”

Chris often speaks of the cultural cost of war, and how the tragic loss of wartime composers is something that must be acknowledged. He immerses himself deeply, and ultimately the work he does has a profound effect on him, as he knows that making or recovering works from the wars can release internalised grief. He refers to Luc Besson’s film, “The Big Blue”, where the free divers go deeper and deeper until the risk is that they will no longer wish to return to the surface. Chris says of this, “I know I face a similar risk, immersing myself so deeply in these horrific events, but I feel these artistic works, created in the battlefields as an attempt to leave some trace of consciousness and memory in the face of erasure, have something to teach us.”

For me, personally, I am looking forward to the 100 Songs Project in which they will record 100 songs from WW1 over the next two years and people will be able to download them from the AWM site. I heard Adjunct Professor Jeff Brownrigg speaking of such songs on the ABC Canberra program with Lish Fejer recently, and some of these old war songs, (surprisingly) were familiar, and not only were there the solemn sad songs of war, but also some rather jolly songs that are uplifting and therapy for the soul.

This project could be most interesting to follow and you can go to the Flowers of War website to find out about the extensive program to come.

Review Canberra City News 22-10-16

Review / Tragic work of war’s lost composers

music / “Three Treasures”. A Flowers Of War concert directed by Christopher Latham. At the High Court of Australia, October 21. Reviewed by Len Power

“FLOWERS of War” is a four-year project directed by Christopher Latham dedicated to recovering and performing the lost music of mostly unknown composers who were killed, injured or badly affected by the Great War. 

The “Three Treasures” concert at the High Court of Australia concentrated on the rediscovered work of three composers – France’s Claude Duboscq, Germany’s Botho Sigwart zu Eulenburg and Australia’s Frederick Septimus Kelly.

The music was performed by Louise Page, soprano, Christina Wilson, mezzo, Tamara-Anna Cislowska and Alan Hicks, piano. Latham played violin.

Christina Wilson. Photo by Peter Hislop

From the melancholy tone of the works of Duboscq, to the more lyrical sound of Sigwart and the delicacy and emotion of Kelly, the concert was a fine showcase for the unknown works by these tragic composers.

The senselessness of war and the loss it causes in human tragedy became more apparent as the concert progressed and one beautiful work after another was played and sung.

Duboscq’s “The Cracked Bell” was sung to perfection by Louise Page.  “Mary’s Annunciation”, by Sigwart was sung with great feeling by Christina Wilson and Sigwart’s “Sleep, Baby Jesus” was sung with haunting clarity by Page.  Kelly’s “Music, when soft voices die” was another sensitively sung highlight from Louise Page as was Wilson’s movingly optimistic singing of Kelly’s composition to Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee?”

The singers were accompanied by the fine piano playing of Alan Hicks.  Tamara-Anna Cislowska performed solo piano works of all three composers with great feeling and assurance.

Christopher Latham on violin joined each of the pianists for two works by Kelly, one of which, “Elegy For Rupert Brooke” was another highlight of the concert.

The finale with Christina Wilson unseen but heard ghost-like from high above the audience singing “Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?” was electrifying.